“A man who buys a drill doesn’t want a drill. He wants a hole.”
This saying, which is attributed to Theodore Levitt – an American economist and professor at Harvard Business School, is one that you frequently hear during sales seminars and trainings. The principal behind this idea is that people do not want the product or service we can sell them – they want the outcome of that service.
Clients don’t hire a web designer or an agency because they want to engage in the process of a website redesign, as enjoyable as we may try to make it for them. They don’t hire us because they want a new website either. If their current website was meeting their needs, they would certainly prefer to avoid the cost, both in time and money, that a new website project requires. No, clients hire us to solve their problems and, as web professionals, we need to realize that that is what we are getting paid to do.
We are not just website designers and developers. We are problem solvers, and the better we get at identifying and helping to solve our clients’ problems, the more successful we will become in acquiring new business.
We Are Too Focused on Solutions
We all have solutions that we have deployed very successfully on other projects and which, we believe, would be a fit for the potential new client we may be speaking with now. Too often, however, we fail to start a conversation by actually asking that new client what their problems are. We lead the conversation with talk about solutions, but we haven’t even begun to determine what the issues are that we are hoping to solve.
I fall into this trap all the time, starting discussions with new clients by focusing on the advantages of our preferred CMS or on responsive web design and how we can develop sites that work well on a wide variety of devices. This isn’t totally blind guesswork. I know, for instance, that the Web continues a steady march towards a multi-device world, so there is a very good chance that responsive design will be an important part of whatever solution is ultimately deployed for this new client. Still, logical conclusion or not, the conversation should begin with a talk about problems, not solutions.
The Problem With Pitching
Part of the problem is in the way that web agencies and designers often engage with potential new clients at the start of a project. Our first meeting with them is often a “pitch” where we are expected to tell them what we could do to help their organization and their website. We are asked to give a presentation that explains our value and details what we could do for their company – but how can we come up with a plan and a presentation on how to solve a company’s problems before we have even identified what those problems may be?
In most cases, you are not the only web professional that these companies are speaking with. Because of that, in these initial meetings, you are often being compared to others who are also pitching their solutions and trying to “wow” this client with what they bring to the table. To win the business, we strive to make a great first impression and prove that our solutions are the right ones for them. This is why we lead with what we know we excel at and what we can show has worked for other clients.
The problem with this typical scenario, if I can return to the original analogy from this article, is that we are trying to sell a drill, instead of asking our client about the hole they need to create. The client doesn’t know the difference between one drill or another, so they are forced to make a judgment without having the proper knowledge. One after another, web design agencies parade their different solutions in front of the client in hopes that theirs will be the one that will be the “winner”. Not only is this a poor way to solve a client’s actual problems, it is a frustrating exercise for us as salespeople! Yes, whether you have the title of “sales” on your business card or not, if you are meeting with new clients to discuss what you can do for them, then you are selling!
This process of parading your company and your solutions in front of clients is not only frustrating, it is inefficient. You will win some of that business and you will lose some. Often, you will lose projects not because of your solution or pricing, but because you guessed wrong and presented the wrong things to the client. The goal for any salesperson is to find a way to tip the scales to your favor and give yourself an advantage. You can do this by focusing on your client’s problems, instead of simply pitching your product.
Changing the Conversation
We know that part of the problem lies in the way we engage with potential new clients, but how do we change the conversation so that it starts by defining the problem before we begin discussing the solutions we can offer? There’s a few ways you can make this happen:
- Establish a pre-meeting questionnaire – many web design agencies require a company to complete a questionnaire prior to an initial meeting to discuss a project. These agencies use the questionnaire to not only get some of the answers they will need to better prepare for that initial meeting, but they also allow the questionnaire to act as a bit of a filter for them. If a company is unwilling to spend the small amount of time it takes to answer those questions, then there is a pretty good chance they will also be unwilling to invest the time that will be needed to make their project a success. A refusal to complete the questionnaire shows that this may actually be a client that you want to stay away from.If the client does fill out the questionnaire, you can use those answers to better understand their needs and tailor you presentation to address their specific goals and concerns instead of guessing at what you should focus on in your presentation.
- Make a friend – it helps to find an ally with a client. Even if you do not use a formal pre-meeting questionnaire, asking the person who initially contacted you some of those important questions is another way you can get the answers that will allow you to tailor your presentation to that company’s specific goals and needs.If you can establish a friendly rapport with your contact up front, you can not only get the answers you need, but you will also have a friendly face in the room which can help you break the ice with others at the company.
- Ask questions and improvise – for many people, this may seem like a scary and somewhat crazy idea, but if you are comfortable presenting “on the fly”, then you can consider making your presentation more of a conversation, rather than you simply showing prepared slides or materials to a company. To do this, you can prepare very general materials that introduce your company, but you can then turn the conversation over to the client and ask them questions about what is important to them, what problems they are hoping to address, and what they are looking for in their new website. Based on their answers, you can then shape the rest of your presentation by speaking to those specific points and/or showing examples of your work where similar problems have been addressed. It takes someone who is good on their feet to pull this off, but if you can do it, the engagement you can get from your audience can go a long way to winning you that business!
No one wants to buy a new website, they want the results that will come from that new site – the improved design, the better user experience, the additional features their customers need, the traffic the site will bring, and the new business it will generate. Instead of selling your process or your product, try selling these results. Understand what is important to that client and explain how you will solve their problems and deliver those results and you will find yourself building stronger up-front relationships and winning more of those deals for your business.